Saturday, May 29, 2010

The art of simple

This morning as I took a cold shower for the second day in a row, I thought, “a small thing, but something that makes me really happy”. As many of my VSO friends can attest, after baking in the heat all day, the water tanks on the top of many Indian roofs ensure that all house water is heated. This is not very positive during the summer. (Of course, during the winter the opposite is true). Typically when I take multiple showers in the evening, the first two seconds are cold and after that, it’s fairly hot. But for the past two days, although it is still hot, it has been somewhat cloudy in Delhi, leading to a more positive shower condition, i.e. PSC.

I’m reminded of this as a relative of mine was recently complaining on their FB page that they didn’t have hot water in their house. I’ve realized through my own Indian experience and reading about those of other vols, how much we’ve all adapted to existing conditions, i.e. AEC.

Other simple things that I’ve come to appreciate are:

• Electricity, especially when it is a hot Delhi evening and I can’t run my a/c, power outages are numerous even though the Delhi government said that there would be no black outs this summer;
• Indoor toilet/plumbing, when I literally see so many who don’t have any indoor plumbing;
• A great apartment, when I see so many who sleep in a one room, windowless hovels or in very makeshift tents, (I often see people in a space one day and then someone else the next) never escaping the heat;
• Being able to download as much music as I want, when so many don’t have any access to internet and when they do don’t really know how to use it;
• Litter free environment in my home, when it is common practice to just throw garbage any and everywhere. I’ve been on a kick to remind people not to litter and last night I made my basketball “children” take an oath not to litter. I’ve also started doing this in my capacity building workshops. (I do however, throw my organic waste out my balcony every day, hoping to compost and grow something, although I think the stray dogs eat the waste every night).
• A few raindrops and a breeze, which are often non-existent in Delhi;
• Smiles from most people that I see and a request to take a picture of them, when so many, including my “tailor”, are constantly working and never seem to stop;
• A good job with lots of work, when so many, seemingly having jobs, but are doing nothing more than sitting all day and doing mindless, waiting, maybe selling fruit/veggies, or having to work construction in the Delhi heat for a few rupees a day;
• Skyping and Facebooking to keep me in touch with loved ones, when so many leave their villages and homes for work and see their family once a year, even though they are married and have children, but have to do this in order to survive;
• Being able to blog about sports, when so many don’t have the free time to do anything more than survive;
• Having clothing, even though most of my underwear is full of holes, when so many have one maybe two, if that many, sets of clothing;
• Being able to wash my clothes in a tub in my bathroom, even though many have to wash their clothes in the street and hang it wherever they can to dry;
• Having, food every day, when so many are begging for a few rupees to have some roti, some dal;
• Sweet children in my home, who treat me as a playmate, when so many have only dirt and garbage to play in.

India is an amazing country and I’m constantly reminding Indians about this, which may be somewhat arrogant of me. India is also a country in constant struggle, at times, making me wonder how it could really ever be a superpower. Health and safety, e.g. five people riding a motorcycle, only with the driver wearing a helmet, driving however and wherever a person would like, men urinating every and anywhere. India has, however, made me realize that living on 18,000 rupees/month. Less than $400, in a fairly comfortable lifestyle is not so impossible. This country has made me realize how to do more with less.

I remember my former spouse reading some book about living a simpler, more with less, life. I think that I can say that I’m starting to understand this. When I do eventually make my back to the US for a visit, please have lots of patience with me as I expect that I might be somewhat less than empathetic when I hear that one is without hot water for a day or a week. At times like this I do understand what it is like to live in another culture, LiAC.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

“Beware of Pickpockets in the train and station areas.”

“Beware of Pickpockets in the train and station areas.” How many times have I heard this woman’s voice with an English accent while taking the metro? Well at least enough times to be aware, but not really.

Another Monday (May 24, 2010) going to the dentist. It seems that my US fillings are all starting to have cracks in India, part of that may be the heavy diet leaning towards sugar and my craving for sweets. I don’t eat a lot of candy, but the chai, and everything else has enough sugar to make one’s teeth ache.

This morning after my walk, I took the bus and paid my five rupees out of a ten rupee note and put my wallet back into my cargo pants, in the lower pocket. I thought I should button this up, but since I usually don’t I didn’t.

I got onto the metro, took my usual 12 stops and went to the office, dropped off my laptop, saw that the Dodgers and Lakers had lost, and went back to the metro to go the dentist in Hauz Kaus. The metro was very crowded when I got on, given that it was 10 AM, prime rush hour. I didn’t take much notice, squeezed on and got off at Central Secretariat. I then boarded a rickshaw. The excitement began when we got to the dentist and as I reached for my wallet it wasn’t there! I’m sure that the rickshaw driver thought that I was crazy as I started feeling and looking around everywhere.
OK, so I had 5 rupees in my pocket and no wallet. I walked into the dentist and asked to borrow 60 rupees, which she gladly gave me and proceeded to make some calls, to my office, can I get an advance, please cancel my bank card, to VSO, they offered to give me an advance.

People were very helpful and then I walked into the dental lair where she proceeded to take out two fillings, one with novocaine and one without. (My teeth on the left side of my mouth have been filling the extreme coldness that a popsicle brings) As the drilling commenced I thought about the movie the Marathon Man and how Dustin Hoffman fared without any anesthesia. I felt a bit feint in the dental seat, so we stopped for a moment and then we cemented the relationship. I’ll be back on June 21 to put in the final bit of silver.

The day went on, I felt pretty down, plus there were the usual things that happen in any office, but they were made more difficult by how I was feeling.

After work I went and reported the loss to the Metro Manager at Karol Bagh who told me to see the Metro Police at Raja Garden. I was told that they were in back of the metro station behind a parking lot. There is a large sign indicating the Metro Police but as I walked straight all that I saw were a group of young men and a large mess area. They told me to go to my left. I walked into the metro police, a room with a number of men, none in any kind of uniforms. I told them my story and they said you must write it down.

They gave me two pieces of paper, inserted a carbon in between and stuck it all together with some pins, so that it wouldn’t all blow away due to the fans. There was no pen in sight and they went to find one. I wrote one page, then we flipped over the paper and carbon and I wrote the second page. After reading my statement the officer told me that I should rewrite this. They went off to find some more paper and I abbreviated my thoughts. They gave me some chai and told me to come back tomorrow, to pick up a typed copy, which I have done. There was only one typo, not bad.

Yes, I lost money, rupees, dollars, credit and bank cards, rupees that I had saved from 2006 the last time that I was in India, pictures.

It’s very disheartening, when I think about the reasons as to why I came to India and what I’m doing. I know that there are people who are desperate, less well off, and this is framed for me every day that I’m here. I also know that I stand out on some level maybe I’m targeted by people in both positive and negative ways.

The phrase “what to do” comes into play at times like this. Things can be very frustrating and this is one of those times when I’m feeling this. Often I’m able to shrug things off, but right now, I’m not able to. The cultural differences stand out for me and that becomes difficult. I know that I’ll get over it, but for now, it’s not that easy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

National Trust Capacity Building Workshop-Gwalior or “Make sure that you have a large enough bed sheet so that your feet don’t stick out”

As I talked about strategic planning goals in my Gwalior capacity building workshop, I said to the “audience”, there is an expression in English about not “biting off more than you can chew”, have you heard of this? As this expression was translated into Hindi and then back to me in English I was told, “Make sure that you have a large enough bed sheet so that your feet don’t stick out”.

From May 10-12, Gwalior, MP is the site of my most recent workshop. A community of one million people, I’m told, about 350 km south of Delhi. I arrived on Sunday to scorching heat. From the train station, I was whisked off to a guest house at a sports university and of course one of the first things that I noticed were the basketball courts! .I saw the incredible Gwalior Fort which I would go on to see again on Tuesday evening for a more thorough investigation, including a sound, in Hindi, and light show with a group of people from the strategic planning workshop that I was conducting. Simply amazing the things that one can see in India! I recommend touring this 1400 year old Fort, carved out of a mountain, that has, like anything this old, quite a unique history. (The Mansingh Palace built much later, is over 500 years old and included a “telephone” system, a swimming pool in the basement, later turned into a jail and torture chamber, and a system for cooling off rooms).

I’m loving facilitating workshops as I become so engrossed in the art of presentation. My family includes many fine performers-sister Robyn, daughter Sarah, brother-in-law Michael, who are musicians, movie makers, dancers, singers, actors, etc. My “stage” however is built on in presenting information about strategic or fundraising planning , writing a grant proposal and staff development and retention. One doesn’t hear much about these types of “performances” on the stage, but in fact, giving a presentation, which relies keenly on “audience” participation, is my way of being an artist.

I sing some and also dance a little, but I’m more of a dramatic comedian, in which, I use very silly humor, and perfect Indian soap opera drama, always making strange faces. For instance, I can take out a “holi” fish “gun” and squirt the “audience” when they aren’t listening to the speaker, and they actually smile and want more. (Of course, when you’re “performing” in a room which is 95 F or 42 C, people always do want more). I can try to say Hindi words in which everyone cracks up, because no matter how much I think that I’m repeating what people tell me, I’m apparently not, and I can lead Bollywood dancing, which I know very little about, while standing on a chair. All the while, the “audience” is laughing.

I can also talk basketball, my love for the game and how it come to represent my life. About how there is no benefit in being a point guard and looking down while dribbling, because if I do I can’t see the entire court and am not “performing” my job. Just like if people in organizations don’t have their heads up in order to see the entire playing field they’re bound to miss out on opportunities. I can teach yoga, the lion, which is actually how I teach people at the YMCA how to play defense, while everyone is laughing, but also staying awake after lunch.

The main thing is that people do understand the components of a strategic plan while drawing silly looking people, using a head to represent a goal, the body to represent an objective and the appendages to represent the strategies and activities. They are understanding how a vision and mission and that silly looking person that they’ve just drawn, all fits together and they are able to develop a “roadmap” for their organisation, including all of their stakeholders in this process. They also are now able to facilitate a strategic planning process.

I can talk about how important it is to develop relationships in successful fundraising and point out resources galore. I can also talk about how in India, people generally just throw their garbage on the ground, even in historic forts, and after pointing this out, get everyone to make a commitment not to liter and remind others that they shouldn’t be littering either.

On many levels “performing” is not being afraid to put oneself out in public and to also truly be in one’s body, knowing full well what you’re doing. I find that I can think very clearly as I take my time, choose my words and make my points. I’ve been fortunate in having very good translators to help me with this, for without them, my words would be empty shells, with the “audience” just glazing over. I also feel fortunate in being able to just be silly, while at the same time building capacity in individuals so that they can build capacity in their organizations. I know that I’m building capacity as I start to become part of the “audience” because they are now becoming the “performers”.

On some level, as volunteers or “foreigners”, we are treated as “celebrities” as “stars”. After all, we might be the only non-Indians for many, many kilometers. I am called “sir” a lot and people open car doors for me, want to ensure that I’ve had plenty of water to drink, make sure that I’ve had a good dinner, etc. Today, at the end of the strategic planning session, a few people asked me for my autograph!

I know that on many levels, I’ve found a niche in life that I truly enjoy. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and am getting to do this, at the Delhi YMCA teaching basketball, through capacity building workshops and through just being a “foreigner”. Today, I know that I’m helping to make a difference in some lives, as a few people in the “audience” told me that they’ve learned strategic planning in school, but didn’t really know how to apply the theory to practice until now. Ultimately this is the type of “performer” that I want to be, helping to “touch” other lives and having them “touch” my life.

At the end of the day today while I was still in the Central Park hotel, the venue for the workshop, I ate a piece of good, old apple pie and it tasted just like something that I could get from “home”. Because, at least for today I was “home”, and although I was full that apple pie tasted damn good!

Check out pics on FB!